There’s something about a young pitcher throwing well that makes you stop and look. Met fans are all too familiar with the concept, having made Tom Seaver, and Dwight Gooden must-see experiences. There was always the chance that you’d see something extraordinary: 15+ strikeouts, say, or a one-hitter – in those pre-6/1/12 days, you didn’t dare dream of a no-no – with baffled batter after batter slumping back to his dugout, muttering to himself. In the stands, the air crackled; even if you weren’t there, this was palpable over the rabbit-ears. The fans were louder than usual, into every pitch, appreciative of the artistry happening right in front of them. Your intrepid columnist has been there for a few of those Seaver/Gooden outings, and he can tell you first-hand that his hair standing on end these nights had nothing to do with static: it was pure excitement.
In his first two starts of 2013, Matt Harvey has engendered a similar snap in the atmosphere. In his first fourteen innings of this baby of a season, Harvey has been nothing short of spectacular. Nineteen strikeouts, five hits allowed, four hits, four walks, one earned run, all adding up to a tidy 0.64 ERA and 0.571 WHIP. These are only the bare numbers, sparkling as they are. If you’ve watched either or both of Harvey’s starts, you know there’s a lot more to the story than that. There’s just this…attitude, for lack of a better word, that he exudes from the bump. It’s a no-nonsense approach that says “I expect greatness from myself; you should, too.” This oozes right off the screen, even if he’s at less than his best. This phenomenon was never so evident than in bottom the fifth inning in Philadelphia on Monday night (4/8). With the Mets cruising 7-1 – having uncharacteristically abused Roy Halladay in the process – Harvey could be forgiven if he had a letdown. A big lead, a subdued crowd, and offense capable of severely abusing a weak Phillies’ bullpen could have all conspired to send Harvey into rocking-chair mode. He would have none of it. He opened the inning by walking Laynce Nix on four pitches. Visibly annoyed – after ball four, he received the return toss from John Buck with an aggravated snap of the glove – he seemed to take the base-on-balls as a personal insult. Harvey proceeded spend his next eleven pitches striking out the side on pitches either too fast to be caught up with, or with a mid-air swerve that rendered a swing comical. The irritation with himself, the motivation was palpable.
Yes, he’s very young. Yes, there’s a lot that can happen – your intrepid columnist remembers a bushelful of can’t-miss pitchers who missed, going back to Rick Baldwin and Jackson Todd, continuing through Tim Leary, then later-on Bill Pulsipher/Jason Insringhausen/Paul Wilson, right up to Philip Humber and Mike Pelfrey. But none of them generated the kind of buzz that Matt Harvey has been bringing to the table. This is a Goodenesque level of chatter. Meanwhile, I just spent ten minutes projecting out the dates of Harvey’s home starts, so I can make attendance plans accordingly.
I want my hair to stand up again.
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